For years the debate in respect of Israel and the Palestinian Arabs has been between partisans of a one-state solution and partisans of a two-state solution. The one-state solution is advanced by those Jews — at this point a minority, though distinguished, faction — who believe that Israel can remain a Jewish state and a democracy while also ruling the West Bank and Gaza, lands with which the Jewish people have longstanding religious and historical ties. It is also advanced by those Arabs who believe that Israel's destruction as a Jewish state can be achieved by a demographic and military triumph of the Arabs between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. The two-state solution is advanced by those who believe the best solution to the competing demands of the Jews and the Arabs is to create an Arab state called "Palestine" in the West Bank and Gaza, a state that partisans of this idea claim would co-exist with Israel in peace. President Bush put the case for a two-state solution in his June 24, 2002, remarks in the Rose Garden this way: "A stable, peaceful Palestinian state is necessary to achieve the security that Israel longs for." What the latest developments in Gaza and the West Bank herald is the possibility of a third option — a three-state solution, in which Gaza and the West Bank are not artificially mashed together into a single Palestinian state with no real historical precedent or logic, but allowed to go their own separate ways. This, by the way, is the situation that obtained in the first 19 years of Israel's modern existence. Three states occupied the land now controlled by Israel and the Palestinian Authority — Israel, Jordan, and Egypt. Egypt controlled Gaza and Jordan controlled the West Bank. It was hardly an ideal situation — Egyptian territory was used as a base for attacking Israel, while Jordan desecrated Jewish holy sites in Jerusalem. But, with important modifications, it might provide at least on an interim basis a better pattern for a way forward than either the one-state or the two-state solutions.
There's a rush under way at the moment to provide international support to the "government" in the West Bank led by a longtime aide to Yasser Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Arab president, who is also known by as Abu Mazen. But Mr. Abbas's government has no legitimacy. It was created by a coup over the weekend in which Mr. Abbas responded to his loss of control of Gaza by unilaterally throwing out the elected Palestinian prime minister.
When Mr. Abbas's Fatah movement controlled the Palestinian Authority, it never acted decisively against the terrorist groups, preferring to use them as a club with which to extract more concessions from Israel. Not that the Hamas-led government in Gaza has much to recommend it, either; Hamas is an Iranian-backed terrorist organization dedicated to Israel's destruction.
Mr. Bush will be urged feverishly in the next few days to try to prop up Mr. Abbas and his Fatah movement. That course will ignore nearly 15 years worth of evidence that Fatah, no matter how much training from our Central Intelligence Agency and funding from Europe it receives, is unable or unwilling to deliver either peace and security to Israel or freedom, prosperity, and the rule of law to the Palestinian Arabs.
Better, by our lights, to pursue — or at least explore — a three-state solution, in which at least parts of Gaza are turned over to Egypt, which has plenty of skill at dealing with Islamist extremists (see the Muslim Brotherhood) and the Palestinian Arab areas of the West Bank that are not necessary for Israel's security or as part of its religious patrimony are turned over to Jordan. Egypt and Jordan, at least, both have peace treaties with Israel.
There are those who will say the above is but a variant of the one-state solution, in that it would leave the Jewish state as the only one standing 50 years after Lake Success. But if it has taken 50 years to get this far, there is no reason why anyone need despair over the next 50 years. Once parts of Gaza are in the hands of the Egyptians and parts of the West Bank back with the Hashemites, the work can begin of building freedom, democracy, and the rule of law in Egypt and Jordan. The strategy could yet provide some impetus for Mr. Bush's central point, that the desire for freedom and democracy is a universal and given by God.
To those who would say this is all too naive, we would suggest that the cynicism of Oslo proved to be a dead end. At least some Palestinians have absorbed the example of Israeli democracy and also learned the bitter experience of rule by the armed gangs that are Fatah and Hamas. Among the non-Arafat, non-Hamas Palestinian Arabs who believe in democracy, this newspaper has reported on Issam Abu Issa and Nonie Darwish, as well as Omar Karsou, who, as our Ira Stoll reported in June 2002, dined with Vice President Cheney at Beaver Creek just days before Mr. Bush spoke in the Rose Garden. The idealists for whom they stand need to be emboldened by a decision by America to give up on both tyrannies in the civil war between Fatah and Hamas that has left the West Bank and Gaza in ruins.